Elevated to the Tri-Valley League this season, Bishop Diego’s football team knew the road to a league championship would be a steeper climb.
The Cardinals rose to the challenge and find themselves one step away from the summit, albeit a rugged step. They take on Nordhoff in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 CIF Northwest Division showdown for the TVL title on Saturday at 7 p.m. at La Playa Stadium.
Nordhoff (8-0, 2-0 TVL) is the division’s top-ranked team, having jumped over Bishop Diego (8-0, 3-0) after week four and holding on to the position.
Saturday’s winner will more than likely be the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
After guiding his team to the Frontier League title last year, Bishop coach Tom Crawrford said he didn’t think about being in championship scenario at the end of the regular season.
“I did think we’d be competitive in the Tri-Valley League given our experience and returning youth from last year, but I knew we had lots of holes to fill, losing Nolan Tisdale, Sam Kwock, Mike Winnewisser, Tom Renick, Reese Moulton and others — kids who were not just good players but very good leaders.”
The Cardinals suffered a big loss this season when captain Jack Gregson went down with a knee injury. Instead of moping about it, the Cardinals pushed on and continued winning games.
“When I saw the way they responded, I knew this group was going to be OK in league,” Crawford said. “Was I hoping for us to be able to compete for a Tri-Valley League championship? Absolutely. We set that as a goal with our guys from the first day of spring practice. But, these kids have done a great job of focusing on the ‘next game’ all year long. In league, there is parity and athleticism and you can’t afford to overlook anyone.”
Nordhoff brings plenty of athleticism and talent to the table. The Rangers are solid on both sides of the ball. The offense is led by quarterback Tanner Workman (1,545 passing yards, 19 TDs) and running back Tayler Livingston (839 yards, 14 touchdowns).
“… They are very disciplined, well coached and fundamentally sound,” Crawford said of the Rangers. “They are productive on offense but it’s not from being flashy, it’s from executing what they do well and they go back to what they do well whenever they are struggling. They block extremely well on offense and take their occasional shot down the field if the defense gets desperate and to keep the defense honest.”
The Nordhoff defense is led by linebacker Kevin Crane. In a tight game against Oak Park two weeks ago, he had five tackles for losses and two sacks.
“They are fast and physical and they don’t give up the big play, which frustrates most teams. Fundamentally sound and confident is a way to describe them,” Crawford said. “We have our work cut out for us in each aspect of the game, but I think we, too, have some of the same characteristics which should make for an interesting contest.”
The Cardinals have a host of playmakers on offense, operating behind a solid line. Quarterbacks Gabe Molina and Anthony Carter give defenses a lot to worry about with their running and passing ability. Running backs Abel Gonzalez, Jacob Salcedo, Aidan Williams and BJ Murillo all possess breakaway speed.
Bishop averages 350 yards on the ground while scoring an average of 45.1 points.
Nordhoff coach Tony Henney said the Cardinals remind him of the Oregon Ducks.
“They’re fast and quick and the put their guys in motion all over the place. We’ll have to find a way to contain their speed,” he told the Ventura Star.
Defensively the Cardinals have been tough against the run and pass. Justin Brosnan and Nolan Tooley bring a strong pass rush from the ends and linebackers Christian Pearson and Thomas Lash are strong runstoppers in the middle. Troy Skinner and Molina lead a solid secondary.
The 1 vs. 2 showdown has all the makings of “Game of the Century” status.
“It should be fun,” said Crawford.